Children and Obesity: Helping Your Overweight Child


It's hard for any parent to accept that he or she has an overweight child. As parents, we all want to believe that we've done our best to raise healthy children. Certainly you have. Even if one or more of your children has a weight problem, it doesn't mean you haven't done a good job. We have to recognize that children develop at different rates and it's important to establish healthy lifestyle habits early in life. This means adopting healthful eating and exercise patterns for the entire family! Just consider how many energy-saving devices we take advantage of and how much more television we watch. It's no wonder more of us - and more of our children - are less active and likely to battle excess pounds.

 

The important thing to realize is that you can do something about your child's excess weight. Before we give you some actions you can start today to make everyone in your family healthier, we'd like to answer a couple of questions:

What causes children to become overweight?
Lifestyle factors, such as too little physical activity and unhealthy eating patterns, and usually a combination of these factors are commonly associated with overweight children. Genetics may also increase the tendency for children to become overweight, but only if such children overeat and/or are inactive. In very rare cases, a medical problem, such as a problem with hormones, may cause a child to become overweight

What is the most important action I can take?
There are two important first steps. First, come to terms with the fact that your child has a weight problem -recognize that your child needs your help. It's best to check with a pediatrician to assess your child's weight. Secondly, plan positive strategies that do not single out the child or children in your family who are overweight: in short, make it a family affair to simply eat healthier and live a more active family lifestyle.

The Action Plan!

  1. Get the whole family involved in planning a healthier living style. Studies show that family involvement is more important to success than family income or education level - this includes making long-term changes in behaviours such as eating and exercising.
  2. Establish daily family meal and snack times. Eating on the run causes everyone to pick up extra calories. Most families are busy with sports and other after-school activities - in addition to parents' busy working schedules. But try to map out a weekly eating schedule that accommodates everyone's schedule. Yes, this may mean eating at one time on Monday night and a different time on Tuesday night, but at least this means a family mealtime most days of the week. You may find that you greatly enjoy family meals just for the wonderful sharing time.
  3. Cook ahead. With busy schedules, it may be easier to cook Tuesday's dinner on Monday and Wednesday's on Tuesday, etc. Having food ready when everyone arrives home at dinner time (with no time to spare) can prevent the frequent ordering out that can order in excess calories. Try cooking double portions and freeze half for another meal.
  4. Offer healthy options at every meal: Don't give in if your kids refuse to eat vegetables and fruits. Keep serving them. As foods become familiar, they're likely to try them. Make a rule to at least taste everything, try new ideas. Here's one easy idea: make an interesting fruit plate the appetizer to every meal (create an interesting design out of cut-up kiwi, a peeled and sectioned orange and little bunches of grapes).
  5. Use positive comments and praise to help your child change eating and exercise behaviour; negative comments only make the situation worse. For example, try saying, "I bought some juicy oranges for your after-school snack; would you like one?"
  6. Reward kids with your time and with fun. You are not alone if you use ice cream cones and cake to reward winning a sports game or a good mark on the report card. But, also try using a game of tennis, a walk in the park or flying a new kite as the reward.
  7. Ask children to "reward" you (the parents) for positive changes in your behaviours -a kiss, hug, or positive comment will do just fine!
  8. Do not single out an overweight child with a special diet. Focus on the whole family, serving the same food for everyone. Do not serve one meal for the overweight child and another for the others; worse yet, do not serve dessert to everyone but the overweight child.
  9. Steer clear of overly restrictive diets. Don't place your child on a restrictive diet to lose weight unless a doctor prescribes one for medical reasons. Instead, help your child eat moderate portions and a variety of foods (and be much more active!) and grow into his height, or grow taller without gaining more weight.
  10. Cut down on obvious sources of fat in the diet: for example, use low-fat (1% or skim) dairy products, remove skin from poultry, use lean meat and cut down portions to the size of a person's fist; bake, broil or grill instead of frying.
  11. Avoid the low-fat trap. Remember that low fat cookies and coffee cakes contain calories and offer few other nutrients. Watch portion sizes. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, too.
  12. Encourage your child - and everyone in your family - to eat slowly. Grandma's old advice about setting down your fork or spoon between bites to slow down your eating speed makes good sense - it can help you realize when you're full.
  13. Turn off the TV at snack and mealtimes.
  14. Encourage more activity overall and set limits on television watching and computer use.
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